The director of the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) on Tuesday explained his perspective on how the agency decided its priorities in the fiscal year 2022 budget request and unfunded priorities list as well as the decision to deploy some Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA missiles. 

Speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) event, Vice Adm. Jon Hill said as the agency developed its budget request they started from a normal bottoms-up approach, deciding what programs need next and what are the warfighter requirements.

A few items have remained a focus, including continuing work on space sensor capabilities like the Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS). “We need that, so I wanted to make sure that was prioritized in the ‘22 budget and it is.”

Hill also said they made sure to prioritize the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system, glide phase interceptor for another layer to defend against hypersonic weapons, and then trying to address some additional risk in the unfunded priorities list. 

Tom Karako, director of the CSIS Missile Defense Project and event moderator, asked if this means the agency shifted some risk to procurement and questioned why the unfunded list was $367.5 million compared to recent years at $1 billion to $2 billion. 

The top priorities in the MDA unfunded list delivered to Congress on June 4 were $41 million for two more Standard Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA All Up Rounds and $110 million for 12 more Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors (Defense Daily, June 14).

Concept art of hypersonic missile defense systems. (Image: Northrop Grumman)
Concept art of hypersonic missile defense systems. (Image: Northrop Grumman)

The base MDA budget request included $647 million to procure 40 SM-3 Block IB and eight SM-4 Block IIA missiles as well as $251.5 million for 18 THAAD interceptors (Defense Daily, May 28).

Hill underscored his inexperience with the Defense Department decision to release the budget with only a single year of funding planning and without the five-year Future Years Defense program (FYDP) plans. 

“I will say I have zero experience in the experience of this year of releasing one budget year. Because what you miss in that is what we’re pointing to, what the vectors are as you go downstream through the FYDP. So, since we don’t have that you sort of get this – boy, I don’t understand,” Hill said.

Hill said when it comes to the SM-3 production line, “I want to make sure that line is stable, so if we’re at minimum sustainment rate that’s okay, it means we can invest later. But I want to make sure we have a healthy production line. And so although you see a small number in the unfunded requirements list, it’s because I want to make sure we’re at the right rate.”

The director said there are several factors going into the right missile production rate.

“At the end of the day, it’s about the number of rounds you’re producing that give you a better cost. So I want to get the best cost point we can get, with the assumption that we have Foreign Military Sales coming in as well, which come later. So right now in ‘22 we’re in production with the SM-3 Block IIA, stabilize that production and move out.”

Hill said the same factors apply to the THAAD production line because he wants “to make sure that we get the best price point by having the best numbers coming off the line. And since you only have that view of ‘22, it’s an incomplete picture, but that’s really what we’re trying to say.”

Karako also asked about potential risk in the operations and maintenance account, down about 10 percent over the previous year.

Hill said this reflects the maturity of the systems and services in doing the operations and sustainment of those systems. While 10 percent may sound like a large amount and seem to be adding risk, “we’re not. We have the most ready systems out there. We take it very seriously we have strategic systems out there.”

He also said the last thing they want to see is a fall off in reliability or availability but that is not happening. Hill noted Congress has provided additional funds in the last few years to bolster the budget.

“So we’re very solid on the ground-based unit defense side, working with the Navy very solid in the Aegis SM-3…so, I don’t have readiness worries with that little bit of the [decrease] there.”

Separately, Hill elaborated on recent reports that Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks notified Congress she authorized the department to deploy 11 SM-3 IIAs to move from testing to fielding.

The MDA director explained these missiles were built with Research, Development, Test and Evaluation (RDT&E) funding and via a complex cooperative development program to build them with Japan.

“We want to make sure we have full proof of manufacturing down, which also meant flight testing along the way. And so we built a fair number of rounds. We expended a fair number, which is why we’re now formally in production, but what that meant is we have these 11 rounds and we’ve done that before.”

He said in prior missile variants, the Defense Department has ended up with a handful of RDT&E missiles that were available to move to deployment.

“So the question is can you deploy an RDT&E round that was used for proof of manufacturing principle and get that out to the fleet. And I was really happy that at the SecDef level they approved that waiver because they were built with RDT&E. So not a lot of drama behind it besides we had that available inventory and we want to get it out there now. Because we started with a threat, that threat’s out there now. I think the fleet needs them.”

This decision came after MDA and the Navy successfully intercepted an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile-type target last November with an SM-3 IIA over the Pacific Ocean in Flight Test Aegis Weapon System-44 (Defense Daily, Nov. 17).

Hill said he does not know where the individual missiles will go. They were built specifically to be used by the European Aegis Ashore sites in Romania and Poland as well as in the Indo-Pacific Command theater. Now Global Force management will take over the process and decide where they go.

“I have some thoughts on where they might want to go but at the end of the day I’m not that guy. You don’t want me to be that guy. You want the operators to determine where that’s going to go.”